A black eye in Vegas

I got a black eye in Las Vegas.
A few weeks ago, I was given the opportunity to go to Las Vegas. It was for a two-day sevens rugby tournament.
I had been practicing with our rag-tag team, the New Mexico State Lady Chiles, for a month. We were, in a word; ill-prepared. Because we didn’t have the numbers to register as a full team, we combined forces with a nearby Tech Center, the Queens. We called ourselves the Chili Queens.
Because we didn’t have the resources to fly or rent a van, we carpooled in two cars for our fatiguing 14-hour journey. This alone I felt was a foreshadowing of the odd adventure I would soon experience.
Our first day at the tournament was okay. I had gained little rest as we had checked into the hotel in the late evening and had to write a paper before going to sleep. We had to be at the pitch at 7 the next morning, so it was a scramble to get my small group to the fields on time. I begrudgingly paid $8 for a Naked smoothie and choked it down on the car ride over.
Our tournament was held right next to the pro rugby stadium, which was an honor in itself, but once we saw the fields, we were a little less charmed.
Brittle, dry grass covered the expansive field, sectioned off into six pitches. We located ours and noticed a total lack of the Tech Queens. Our first game was at 8:30. They showed up at 8:00, after accidentally going to the tournament fields across the highway from us. Their coaches were two very interesting characters.
A towering, heavy-set man wearing track suit pants and a ball cap accompanied by a shorter guy sporting levis and an old rugby jersey approached us. Throughout the event I would find them to be good advice-givers and supporters of their team, but also boyish and comical.
It became very apparent to me that the Tech Queens were inexperienced. While the Chilies were short numbered, I could at least boast that we all had some semblance of experience under our belts; the Queens, to put it frankly, often played as if they had never touched a rugby ball before. Many dropped the ball, threw illegal passes, and would avoid contact at all costs. Their tackling technique looked more like a loose hug, easy to break through, than an actual attempt at a tackle.
Because of this, we lost all three games that day. While it was a little demoralizing, I kept reassuring myself it was just a great chance to be there.
That night, none of us wanted to go walk the Vegas Strip, as our next line up tomorrow began at 7:00 the next morning.
That first game of the second day was the last game I played for the rest of that tournament. We were unsurprisingly playing the losing bracket, and losing hard. However, this team had strength. It became apparent to me that they had lost because they had no strategy and but a lot of aggression. This combination proved to be dangerous for the flighty and clumsy team we were.
As I was just passing a ball out to my next player, I felt a rush of wind and heard a big thunk. My head flew backwards, my shoulders, torso and legs following, as I dropped to the ground like a fly. Being that a player completing an active play was injured, the ref blew the whistle and the game paused.
I knew at that moment I wouldn’t be playing for the rest of that game, and while I was relieved, I was also frustrated. My team needed me, but I couldn’t have controlled the hit.
As it turns out, a player on the other team had connected heads with me in perhaps the smallest attempt at a tackle I had seen in my time playing so far. I would later see a video filmed by a girlfriend of a player who had captured of the collision. The girl, still fully upright, with little hint of hunkering down and hitting “cheek-to-cheek,” ran up to me at full speed, and – with no other way to describe it – head butted me.
After a visit to the medical tent, I was sent out with an ice pack and a possible mild concussion diagnosis and was sat in the grass.
I would spend the next couple of days with an impressive black eye and a perpetually dazed feeling. That game ended with five of our girls with head injuries. The team apologized to us afterwards, and I was able to accept the condolences of the girl who had hit me. She had received a yellow card and was sporting an obvious swollen egg on her forehead.
I and the rest of the injured players would follow the two Tech coaches around for the rest of the day. We drove over to the other tournament fields, where we found concessions, food trucks, and a notably lush, green field. When we arrived, the first thing I noticed was a man hovering near a tent wearing absolutely nothing but a speedo. We would soon find out a charity sevens game would be played that afternoon, in speedos. We were able to harass the shorter coach to participate, and I was soon able to watch several speedo matches from the sidelines, which greatly improved my day. I still can’t tell if I felt dazed by my injury or just how surreal and strange my experiences had been.
The next day I went exploring the strip with a few of my teammates, all the while covering up my black eye with a pair of sunglasses, constantly making jokes about it and feeling a little like I was in a dream. I floated around the strip, walking into overpriced luxury stores and ogling at the mesmerizing lights and screens surrounding me.
I watched a street performance get broken up and arrested by police officers, bridal entourages wearing matching tee-shirts, shouldering their drunk brides sporting wilting cheap veils and yard-glasses and several sets of peacocks strutting their way around. I was able to watch the infamous Bellagio fountains, go inside the 5-floored Hersey’s building, and see the grand Chinese New Year installation, also in the Bellagio. Being that my usual stress in crowded settings was dampened slightly, I enjoyed the whole experience.
At the time, my attitude had been a little disheartened. But looking back, I think it had made me determined to enjoy myself in spite of it. I hope to go back to Las Vegas again someday; just hopefully not to receive another black eye.

Editor’s note: Adriana Eldred is our Southwest correspondent this semester, based at the University of New Mexico, Las Cruces.